Josephine Heriot Dibble Murphy

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Josephine Heriot Dibble Murphy, 1888-1974

By Lisa Hendrickson, Independent Historian

Josephine Heriot Dibble, born in Camden, SC on July 31, 1888, was one of three children born to Eugene and Sallie Rebecca Lee Dibble. Her father was a successful grocery merchant and the family, including Josephine and her siblings Eugene, Harold, Ella, Andrew, Janis, James, and Ida Lee, lived on Rutledge Street in Camden. Her early education was at the private school Boykin-Haven-Mather-Academy and she later attended Clark Atlanta University, receiving a teachers' training certificate in 1909. In 1910 she moved to Washington. She worked for the Census Bureau and then taught at Miles Memorial College in Alabama as head of the home economics department.

On September 3, 1913, she married Harry Saunders Murphy in Chicago and the couple moved to Madison, WI. Harry, born February 4, 1884 in Camden, SC, was educated at the University of Wisconsin (graduating in 1916), studied journalism, and began his teaching career at Langston University in Oklahoma. He later joined the English faculty at Alabama State Normal School in Montgomery, AL (listed in the 1920 census as State Memorial School for Colored Students located at 735 S. Jackson Street). Now known as Alabama State University, "ASU, is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning for black Americans. In 1873, the Alabama Legislature established a ‘State Normal School and University for the Education of Colored Teachers and Students' and offered its first university class in Montgomery in 1887," according to the website. Harry registered for the WWI draft during the time the couple was living at 616 Thumen Street in Montgomery, AL. In 1919, he left teaching to sell life insurance for Lincoln Life Reserve Company. Then in the 1922, the couple left Alabama and moved to Atlanta, GA where Harry became a vice president of the Standard Life Insurance Company, heading the printing division. Later he left Standard Life and started a printing company called The House of Murphy Printers which he operated for 40 years. The 1930 census shows them living at 749 Fair Street in Atlanta.

The couple had four children, Doris (1915), Sarah (1917), Mabel Hancock Murphy Symthe-Haith (1918), and Harry, Jr.(1928). Several of their children and their spouses were very accomplished. Mabel Hancock Murphy went to grade school on the campus ofAlabama State Normal College. She attended Spellman College majoring in economics, finishing her education at Mount Holyoke College. Later she earned a Masters from Northwestern University and a PhD from University of Wisconsin. She was known as an African Affairs Expert, an ambassador and diplomat, educator, and author. Mary Williamson McHenry Murphy (1933-2021),Harry Saunders Murphy Jr. first wife,was credited with bringing African American literature to Mount Holyoke College. She was an Emeritus Professor of English there and mentored Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks in the 1980s. Harry Jr. attended Morehouse College and was schoolmates with Martin Luther King Jr.

As was the case across the county, the road to gaining woman suffrage in Alabama took many years to achieve, especially for black women. After a stall on early efforts in Alabama, woman suffrage efforts picked up in the 1910s. The Selma Suffrage League was created in 1910 followed by the creation of the Birmingham Equal Suffrage League in 1911. OnOctober 9, 1912,Alabama suffragists formed a statewide group called the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association (AESA) by combining the Selma Suffrage League and the Birmingham Equal Suffrage League. The AESA was affiliated with NAWSA and established its headquarters in Birmingham. The Alabama Federation of Colored Women's Clubs was created in 1910 and fought for woman suffrage in addition to working on other issues to improve the lives of people in their community. As the Alabama State Legislature was considering the Nineteenth Amendment in July of 1919, suffragists from all over Alabama traveled to Montgomery to lobby for woman suffrage. Due to the influence of strong anti-suffrage opponents and key senators, the amendment was rejected on July 17, 1919. Nothing is known about Josephine's suffrage involvement, but it is possible that she was part of the suffrage lobbying group.

After the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified (Alabama did not ratify it until 1953), African American women were frequently thwarted in their attempts to register to vote, blocked by obstructionist tactics including outright refusals, threats, poll taxes, and literacy tests. In the book titled Suffrage at 100: Women in American Politics Since 1920 authors Stacie Taranto and Leandra Zarnow write that "In Montgomery, Alabama, registrars turned away three pairs of husbands and wives: the Reverend P. W. Walls, who was the pastor of the A.M.E. Church, and ‘wife', Professor Harry S. Murphy, who was a former secretary of the Montgomery NAACP, ‘and wife', and Dr. A.W. West, and ‘wife.'" These men were described as "prominent members of the race," a status their wives presumably shared. That status, however, did not shield them from discrimination at the registrar's office. Taranto and Zarnow also discuss the reasons why husband and wives might have gone together to register to vote explaining that, "the company was welcome because it offered a measure of safety and because the presence of ‘respectable' associates might reduce the odds that applicants would be treated with discourtesy." All three couples who were denied the right to vote were members of the St. John A. M. E. Church where Reverend Polk W. Walls, was the pastor.

After the move back to Georgia, Josephine became involved with Atlanta University, initially serving as a hostess, later holding the position of president of the Atlanta University Alumni Association for 22 years.She helped found a local chapter of The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, an organization founded by Jane Addams focused on assuring peace and freedom using non-violent means. Josephine believed, "If there is to be any future to peace in the world all races must learn to live together with mutual respect each for the other," (from the Josephine Dibble Murphy Collection papers). Through this organization she was able to travel and teach around the world. In addition she was given the NAACP Honor Certificate for Atlanta University Alumni Association and also its lifetime Membership Plaque. Harry was also very active in the NAACP, serving a secretary of the Montgomery chapter from 1919-1920.

Josephine passed away on October 18, 1974. She was an educator, community leader, and activist. Harry passed away in 1975 and is buried in Westview Cemetery in Atlanta.


US Census: 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940

Find a Grave

Cook County Marriage Records 1805-1967

US WWI Draft Registration cards 1917-1918

US School Yearbooks 1900-1999

"Murphy," The Atlanta Constitution, October 19, 1974, pg. 29 (her obit)

"Harry S. Murphy Sr. Dies: Founder of Firm," The Atlanta Constitution, March 1, 1975, pg. 28

Mabel Hancock Murphy Symthe-Haith obituary, Boston Globe, January 14, 2007

Taranto, Stacie and Leandra Zarnow, Suffrage at 100: Women in American Politics Since 1920, JHU Press, 2020, pp. 77-79

Liette Gidlow, "Resistance after Ratification: The Nineteenth Amendment, African American Women, and the Problem of Female Disfranchisement after 1920," in Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000, 21:1 (March 2017).

Nolan, Cathal J., Notable U.S. Ambassadors Since 1775: A Biographical Dictionary, Mabel Hancock Murphy Symthe-Haith, Greenwood Publishing Company, 1997, pp. 322-324.

Harper, Ida Husted, The History of Woman Suffrage, New York, J. J. Little & Ives, 1922, pp. 2, 4, 5.

Burnes, Valerie Pope, "Will Alabama Women Vote? The Women's Suffrage Movement in Alabama from 1890-1920," Alabama Review, January 2020, pp. 28-39.

Josephine Dibble Murphy Collection, Archives Research Center, Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library.

Mabel Hancock Murphy Symthe-Haith online biography

Alabama State University history website,

The Association for Diplomatic Studies and training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Women Ambassadors Series-Mabel Murphy Smythe-Haith, interviewed by: Ann Miller Morin May 2, 1986,,%20Mabel%20-%201986.toc.pdf


Photograph of Josephine Dibble Murphy courtesy of:

Josephine Dibble Murphy Collection, Archives Research Center, Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library.


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